The Lawyer Letter Commandeth

Jon Katz at Underdog,a zealous defender of the first amendment, was given a letter that is just too funny to pass up.

Late last month, Los Angeles lawyer Martin Singer sent a threat letter to the San Diego Reader warning of exposure to “potentially astronomical [financial] damages” through a defamation suit if the newspaper “proceed[s] to recklessly and falsely publish a Story which falsely states, either directly or by implication, that my client [Platinum Equity, LLC] engaged in wrongdoing…” Singer’s letter states at the beginning and end that it is confidential and not to be republished.

Jon’s description doesn’t do it justice.  Don Bauder of the San Diego Reader, one of the targets of the threat letter, did a story on the letter itself.

If you go to the website of the Los Angeles law firm of Lavely & Singer and click the bio of cofounder Martin Singer, you find a Los Angeles Magazine article in which Singer is described as a “pit bull” who has “rabid” tactics and the nickname “Mad Dog.” The article quotes a journalist saying, “I’ll make one call to a publicist to check out a tip, and pretty soon I get a hand-delivered letter from Singer threatening all sorts of disasters and financial damages.”

So what does this “pitbull” write to scare the pants off his targets?

Warning of “immense monetary damages,” Singer’s letter admonished, “You proceed at your peril.” At the top of the letter were these words: “CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL NOTICE. NOT FOR PUBLICATION OR OTHER USE.” In a number of instances, the Reader has found, Singer’s threatening letters have been published despite his warning of a possible copyright violation. The letters we have seen contained the same language — words such as “malicious,” “defamatory,” and “violation of Copyright Act,” for example — that Singer uses in his letter to the Reader.

Now if you received a letter like this, and didn’t know better, there’s a pretty good chance that it would shake you up.  Whether he has any basis to assert that the underlying claim would have a potentially meritorious libel claim is one thing, but the part that is just too ridiculous for words is this Confidential Notice.  It’s utterly goofy.

Naturally, Bauder not only provides a link to the letter, but publishes it in full.  God bless him.  After the ominous sentence, “you proceed at your peril,” (peril is a great word, isn’t it?), Singer concludes with this warning:

This letter is a confidential legal communication and is not for publication. Any publication, dissemination or broadcast of any portion of this letter will constitute a breach of such confidence and a violation of the Copyright Act, and you are not authorized to publish this letter in whole or part absent our express written authorization.
Wrongo, dogbreath.  Pit bull just turned into a chihuahua. 

Lest anyone shake unnecessarily, here’s the deal.  Singer is full of it.  Absent an agreement, meaning that both sides agree, to hold a document, such as a letter or email or any other writing, in confidence, you can do any darn thing you please with it.  You can publish it, post it on the internet or use it for toilet paper.  Singer can’t tell you not to publish it.  Once it’s put into your hands, whether literally or figuratively, it’s yours to do with as you please.

Now Singer includes a copyright notice at the end of the letter.  Letters are as entitled to copyright protection as any other writing.  They are also subject to the “fair use” exceptions to copyright.  This means that Bauder, if he was a lawyer, couldn’t copy over Singer’s nastygram onto his own letterhead and send it out to the next fellow.  But it doesn’t stop Bauder from publishing the letter to show what a joke Singer is. 

If all this sounds familiar, it is.  It harkens to another puffy wannabe bully, John Dozier, who tried to scare people into not publishing his nastygrams.  It made Dozier the joke of the internet, and it should do the same for this mutt, Singer.  Understand, guys like this include these stern commands because non-lawyers get shaken up, prefer not to challenge the command “just in case,” and allow these guys to get away with it.  Their lawyer letters remain hidden from sight rather than tempt fate.

But not this one.  And whenever someone gets a letter from self-proclaimed doggie, Martin Singer, commanding them not to disclose it, perhaps now they will laugh rather than shake with fear.  Got that, Marty? 

And the pit bulls want an apology.  You’ve diminished their economic opportunity.

4 thoughts on “The Lawyer Letter Commandeth

  1. just a quip

    … amazing that a law firm is still using WordPerfect a decade after Word Perfect Corporation bit the dust … on the last page bottom, along with the (c) mark, the file name ends: .wpd which was their mark

  2. SHG

    Ahem, as much as I hate to admit it, I still use WordPerfect.  I call it the secret lawyer handshake, so only other lawyers can open their files.  I think lawyers are the only ones who still use WP.

  3. elaine

    marty singer doesn’t reserve his nuttiness for big celebrities. Check out what his lawfirm did in the case of Mathilde “Tig” Notaro. He got the LAPD involved and the city attorney and cost the taxpayers millions.

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